'We had opportunities': Tigers can't get unstuck against short-staffed Yankees
New York — There was no Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees lineup. No Aaron Hicks or Miguel Andujar or Didi Gregorius. Neither CC Sabathia nor Luis Severino started and Dellin Betances wasn’t coming out of the Yankees bullpen.
That’s the Yankees injured list.
The team manager Aaron Boone put out there on a chilly Monday night in the Bronx still had enough pop to beat the Tigers. Home runs by Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner did the trick in a 3-1 win.
"That play out in right field," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That was the play of the game."
It was, essentially, the Tigers best and last chance to break through against a parade of elite Yankees pitchers. It happened in the eighth inning. Reliever Adam Ottavino walked Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera to start the inning.
The Tigers drew seven walks on the night — but only two hits.
"Just couldn't come up with the big hit," Gardenhire said. "I don't remember us really even having a chance until that rocket that Niko hit."
Niko Goodrum hit a sinking line drive to right field. Aaron Judge, all 6-foot-7 of him, made a lunging dive and caught the ball just before it hit the ground. Rally killed.
"He hit that ball on the button and we had two guys on," Gardenhire said. "That was our big opportunity and Judge made a great play. He dives and it gets by him, we tie the ballgame."
Dustin Peterson had come on to run for Cabrera at first, so there was a good chance he'd score from first if Judge doesn't make the catch.
"I thought it was going to fall," Goodrum said. "He's 6-7, 6-8, tall dude and he laid out. Even when he dove I thought it was still going to get down. But he made a great play.
"That's part of the game though. You roll with it. You get a bloop hit the next day — it can go both ways."
Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart flew out to end the eighth inning and Yankees closer Aroldis Champman finished it off in the ninth.
"We're grinding out there," said starter Tyson Ross, who made his Tigers debut Monday. "We're battling every day. We had opportunities. We are right there, just a bloop or a blast away from being in the game and winning it."
Ross worked a laborious, but creditable five innings. Only one of those innings was clean — a nine-pitch, two strikeout fourth — but the only earned runs came on the two solo homers.
He only gave up four hits, though he cluttered the bases and jumped his pitch count with four walks.
"I thought Ross was good," Gardenhire said. "He gave us an opportunity. I enjoyed that part of it."
Still, for the fourth time in five games, the Tiger offense provided a small margin for error. Against right-handed starter Domingo German — he of the sling-shot delivery, 96-mph fastball and knee-locking curveball — the Tigers mustered one hit in five innings.
The Tigers had two hits all game — both by Jordy Mercer.
German walked five, only one of which ended up hurting him, and struck out seven.
"He's got a big arm," Gardenhire said. "He's throws hard and he's got a nice change-up and that breaking ball. And they bring in all those closers (Chad Green, Zach Britton, Ottavino and Chapman)."
Sanchez, the Yankees catcher, can be a double-edged weapon at times.
He started the scoring in the second inning, clubbing an 88-mph cutter from Ross 417 feet beyond the monuments in center field. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph.
He also put the Tigers’ first run on the scoreboard with an errant throw in the fourth inning. Stewart had walked and Mercer, with two outs, singled him to second.
With Mikie Mahtook hitting, German threw one in the dirt that Sanchez blocked, but the ball rolled a few feet away. Stewart broke for third and Mercer for second. Sanchez opted for Mercer, but his throw went into center field.
The Tigers had gifted a run to the Yankees in the third inning. With two outs, Ross walked Luke Voit and gave up a ringing single Greg Bird. The ball eluded Stewart in left and Voit came all the way around to score.
"The two-out walk bit me in the butt," Ross said. "It's just one of those cardinal sins, you don't walk guys with two outs. Other than that, I felt pretty good."
Gardner’s home run was as Yankee Stadium special, a liner in the short section in right field. That one came off another low-velocity fastball by Ross (87 mph).
"That was a 3-2 pitch and I tried to elevate a fastball," Ross said. "He got on top of it."
The Tigers bullpen put up zeros the rest of the way. Blaine Hardy got five straight outs, striking out two.
But with two out in the seventh, Gardenhire didn’t want the lefty to face right-handed slugger Judge. So he brought in Rule 5 rookie Garrett Reed. Fun confrontation.
Garrett threw Judge three straight sliders and got ahead in the count, 1-2. But when he unleashed his 95-mph fastball, Judge pounced. The ball left his bat at 106.8 mph and banged off the wall in right center for a double.
"He didn't get beat with his fastball, he threw it right down the middle," Gardenhire said. "He had him 0-2 and we were trying to pitch up above the bat to see if he would chase and he threw it right down the middle.
"Just a little over-excited and he missed. And when you miss with that guy, you are going to get it hit hard."
Undaunted, though, Garrett came back and struck out Voit, getting to swing through a slider. He finished his night pitching a scoreless eighth inning.
"It was cold, really cold out there," Gardenhire said. "It was a tough night, but I thought we competed very well."